The tale of the Knight of the Woeful Countenance has been transformed from the written word into many forms from plays, to operas, to movies, even television specials. Written, allegedly, by Miguel de Cervantes from a found Arabic text, “Don Quixote de La Mancha” is considered the to be the first modern novel. Playwrights Peter Anderson and Colin Heath certainly had a lot to work with in adapting the novel for its United States premiere at the Marin Shakespeare Company’s 2015 Season. In a preview talk, Canadian Anderson admitted that the work was difficult and that they had to cut it down to make it meet his and Heath’s vision of how they saw the completed production – as Commedia d’ell Arte theatre.
The playwrights and director Lesley Schisgall Currier couldn’t have cast a more perfect Quixote than movement and solo artist Ron Campbell and, as his co-star, the equally outstanding John R. Lewis as Sancho Panza. Ron Campbell’s skills as a movement artist are evident in portraying Quixote’s physical fluidity and dance-like actions. The leads were enhanced by an ensemble of five actors in various supporting roles: Cassidy Brown, Rick Eldridge, Lee Fitzpatrick, Monica Ho, and Jed Parsario. Adding to the wonderment of this fantastic production were the twenty five or more half-masks hand-crafted especially for this production by multi-talented, David Poznanter, who is also an actor, circus performer, and acrobat. He spent a year in Italy learning mask-making from a famous mask-maker, Matteo Destro.
Poznanter’s masks enable an actor to change and embody the character, which is significantly recognized in all the actors.
Quixote, having steeped himself in a library full of books on knights and chivalry, claimed the mantle of a knight, bent on saving damsels in distress, and putting to rights social and political wrongs. Yes, he was delusional; believing things were what they were not – an inn, a castle; a bucket on a broom handle – his horse, Rosenante. A barmaid, a princess.
I read Book One of “Don Quixote” and wondered how the playwrights would handle some of his most difficult adventures: the windmills which Quixote insisted were giants; the scene with the chain-gang; the flock of sheep, etc. But they did so, beautifully; assisted by all whose efforts went into making a truly inventive, memorable production.
Don Quixote plays Friday nights and weekends through August 30 at Forest Meadows Amphitheatre on the Domincan University campus in San Rafael. Go to www.marinshakespeare.org for more information.
Photos by Steven Underwood